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John Steinbeck, The Grapes of Wrath (1939)

History has judged this the crowning achievement of Steinbeck's career. Based on his experiences reporting about migrant workers in California, the book champions the dignity of the common man against the horrors of Depression-era living. It won the Pulitzer Prize and nearly every other literary award, and made Tom Joad an enduring symbol of the working man.

John Steinbeck, East of Eden (1952)

Steinbeck believed that this novel, an allegorical tale of good and evil, was his best work. He spent eleven years thinking about the book and then poured himself into the writing, declaring afterward that "It has everything in it I have been able to learn about my craft or profession in all these years. … I think everything else I have written has been, in a sense, practice for this." Are you still not convinced? Oprah chose it for her Book Club. So there.

John Steinbeck, Cannery Row (1945)

This is one of the best examples of Steinbeck Country. Set amidst the fish canneries of foggy Monterey California, the novel follows a group of men through the comic and tragic turns of their lives. It's so real you can practically smell the fish guts. This may or may not be a selling point.

John Steinbeck, Travels With Charley (1962)

Steinbeck's wife tried to talk him out of making the cross-country road trip on which this book is based, citing his poor health. He wouldn't budge, and readers are lucky he didn't. There is something very charming about this book, a travelogue of Steinbeck's 10,000-mile journey in a camper van named Rocinante, with his pet poodle Charley by his side.

Jackson J. Benson, John Steinbeck, Writer (1990)

Benson spent about thirteen years assembling this a doozy of a volume, which weighs in at more than 1,000 pages. Buried inside is about everything you could hope to know about John Steinbeck, and probably much more. Benson is one of the foremost Steinbeck scholars and does a fine job of assembling the story of the writer's life.

Rick Wartzman, Obscene in the Extreme: The Burning and Banning of The Grapes of Wrath (2008)

This book helps to explain the controversy that has dogged The Grapes of Wrath since publication. While critics have rightly pointed out that Wartzman's writing is occasionally overblown, the book illuminates the interesting dynamics of censorship and free speech.

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